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Evodevo. 2013 Sep 30;4(1):26. doi: 10.1186/2041-9139-4-26.

Evolution of eye development in the darkness of caves: adaptation, drift, or both?

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DECA group, Neurobiology & Development Laboratory, CNRS, Gif sur Yvette, France.


Animals inhabiting the darkness of caves are generally blind and de-pigmented, regardless of the phylum they belong to. Survival in this environment is an enormous challenge, the most obvious being to find food and mates without the help of vision, and the loss of eyes in cave animals is often accompanied by an enhancement of other sensory apparatuses. Here we review the recent literature describing developmental biology and molecular evolution studies in order to discuss the evolutionary mechanisms underlying adaptation to life in the dark. We conclude that both genetic drift (neutral hypothesis) and direct and indirect selection (selective hypothesis) occurred together during the loss of eyes in cave animals. We also identify some future directions of research to better understand adaptation to total darkness, for which integrative analyses relying on evo-devo approaches associated with thorough ecological and population genomic studies should shed some light.

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